Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birds Get in The Way of Life
November 09, 2019
By Steve Grinley

     We all have fall chores on our plate. Last weekend, with good weather predicted, I had planned to do mine. Now that the wind storms of the past couple weeks have brought most all of the leaves down off the trees, it was time to clean out the gutters and arrange for a fall clean up of the yard. A rearrangement of some of our bird feeders was in order as well.

     So Saturday morning I had planned to clean the gutters. Well, that was the plan until Margo received a text from fellow birder, Sean Williams. It was a photo of a western kingbird, a rare bird. “If you are in the area” Sean wrote.

     “The area” was Eastern Point in Gloucester. Since we lived only twenty minutes away, we were certainly in the area. So I abandoned my gutter-cleaning plan and we headed to Gloucester where, after only a brief search of the area based on Sean’s excellent directions, we relocated the kingbird. We called several other birders and waited for some of them to arrive to be sure they got on the bird.

     Since we were already on Cape Ann, we thought we should check out some of the other areas in case there were some other rarities showing up. So Saturday was for the birds, not the gutters and yard work.

     Sunday morning, I again was prepared to clean the gutters. However, on this morning a report appeared that a vesper sparrow was seen at the Maintenance Area on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island. OK, vesper sparrows are not exactly rare, but they are uncommon enough that it is always special to see one. And, yes, it is basically a sparrow- a little brown job.

     But vesper sparrows always had a pace in my heart. In my first years of birding, I spent a lot of time in “the swamp’ near my home in West Newton. There was a field next to the swamp that I named “Sparrow Field” as I had seen nine or ten species of sparrows in that field. One was a vesper sparrow, still an uncommon bird back then.

     As I watched the vesper sparrow singing from a perch, I heard a “bang” and the sparrow fell to the ground. I turned to the area from which the bang emanated and saw two boys, one with a BB rifle. They were congratulating each other on their marksmanship. They were disinterested in my explanation of how special this bird was, and they walked away.

     I picked up the bird and took it to Mrs. Hayes who lived nearby and worked for Mass Audubon. She called the police to report the boys and retained the corpse for her freezer to donate it as a study skin.

     But I digress. So Sunday morning we abandoned the gutters once again and headed for Plum Island where we found the vesper sparrow. Its eye-ring, chestnut in the wings and white outer tail feathers were well seen by both of us, and by a class on sparrows from Mass Audubon Joppa Flats that showed up while we were there. We continued our search for other birds on the island and spent the day birding, instead of cleaning gutters and yard work.

     Then came my day off on Tuesday. Perfect weather for cleaning gutters, so Margo went birding with our friend Linda, and I dutifully stayed home to clean gutters. But the birds tested me once more.

     As I stood on the ladder cleaning out the gutter, I looked down and there was a bluebird checking out the bluebird house I had mounted on a tree last year. A second bluebird was atop the box, awaiting the verdict. I backed down the ladder to let the inspection continue, and moved away from the area. I saw another male bluebird on the suet log feeder and a fourth on one of the telephone wires above.

     The small flock of bluebirds moved to the back of the house, and eventually moved through the trees toward the creek and woods beyond.

     I went back to the task at hand and soon after heard a “croak.” I looked up, and a raven was flying toward me and over the house. It continued to croak as it made its way into the woods. Not our first raven, but always a rare occasion.

     I went back to clean the gutters. Then the text came. Margo said Linda had found a greater white-fronted goose in the fields from Northgate Road in Ipswich. Ten minutes away. I dropped everything and went.

     When I arrived at Northgate, the scopes were on the rare goose and I got excellent looks. A great look at a rare goose. But I had promises to keep – to myself.

     To get gutters cleaned so that we could move ahead with the yard cleanup.

     So I headed home, satisfied with nice views of a rare goose, and with the optimism of what might show up at home as I completed my chores.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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